Ithe Bhetla Andaman — The Beginning

I guess I was in seventh grade when my sister made me read it. Maajhi Janmathep. Veer Savarkar’s autobiography .His name evokes controversy, but a man who spent the best years of his life participating in a fierce struggle for the independence of the country, forgoing all comfort in life and consciously choosing the suffering and hardships when he could have opted to stay at home ,definitely deserves much more respect than the ignorance that has been given. Maajhi Janmathep gave me goosebumps.It was unbelievable how a person could maintain his sanity in the inhuman environment of Andaman Jail..and I wanted to see that place.

And yeah..after all these years..I got the chance to tick Andaman off my travel checklist. Me and my two lets-pack-and-run friends religiously googled lowest flight fares from Chennai to Port Blair, hotel bookings, places to visit etc.

The first question was shall we take a travel package or not? In the Andaman islands,anything can happen at any moment.Heavy rainfall ,thunderstorms or any other natural disaster resulting in cancellations of boats,ferries,closing down of attractions,change in timings of when a convoy opens are way common here. After lot of discussion,we thought of doing everything on our own.

We had planned to fly to Port Blair from Chennai .We booked hotel rooms and train/flight tickets after researching all possible sites.

We were supposed to leave on friday (9 Dec 2016).The week arrived with a bang.News flashed all over.Over 2376 tourists stranded in Andaman due to heavy rainfall caused by cyclone Vardah. The cyclonic storm was likely to intensify over the next few days.We swallowed hard.The situation started getting worse.The Indian Navy had deployed rescue ships but they could not start the rescue operation due to bad weather.We kept on checking weather reports.Our family members,friends,colleagues all started advising to abandon the Andaman plan as things were getting out of hands.There was a tropical threat issued which indicated cyclone getting more and more intense from Port Blair to Vishakhapatnam. Thursday arrived.Our whatsapp chats were full of screenshots. By Thursday evening,evacuation had started.However,everyone on the internet has strictly advised not to enter Andaman for at least two weeks.

We had no clue what to do.I stumbled upon Andaman tourism department site.I called the number which was mentioned under “tourist enquiries”.The receptionist(or whoever he was) talked to me in a very nice manner (Hindi) and explained that cyclone has affected only two islands;Neil and Havelock and the rest of the Andaman is completely safe.I breathed sigh of relief.

We packed in the evening.

Day 0 

We had to catch the train to Chennai at around 4.15pm. I entered my office and let my colleagues know that we are going ahead with the trip as planned.As expected,this resulted in a wave of criticism for being worried about wasting money more than putting life in danger.But I don’t know why,I had a strong gut feeling that this trip is going to be a success,no matter how the present situation appeared.I expressed the same things to my friends and,to my utter surprise, they blindly trusted my gut instincts(I am still very grateful:)).

The real blow came at around 3 o’clock. Tsunami warning got issued in the Indonesian region after a major earthquake hit Soloman islands.Our third travel partner had to back out due to parental pressure.Me and Reenu thought of going to Chennai and decide the course of action based on Saturday’s news and weather report.Caught an Auto.Got in train on time. Our next move was totally uncertain,but we decided to enjoy whatever we have for now.Facebook checkin,mast chaai,endless talks,refreshing news feed etc.

Day 1

We got up at around 8 am.We reached Chennai central station. OMG! Such a huge train station.We checked weather report.The situation in Andaman was returning back to normal with all the stranded tourists being safely returned to mainland.We had made our decision.:)

As per one of the answers on Quora,we could reach from Chennai central to airport in 3 steps.

So ,step 1.Find Chennai Park Station. Since almost everyone was in hurry,we went straight to the patrolling police guards.We asked in English(as we were not to open our mouths in Hindi in Chennai),but well,the guards replied in Hindi..”aage se straight jao..left turn lo..phir ye turn phir woh turn..” We said thank you.Went straight for 2 mins.Then turned left and asked someone “How to go to Chennai Park Station” :D.  Reached park station in 5 mins.

Step 2.catch train to tirusulam station.Ticket was Rs.10 per head for  a 40 min train journey. We found all the ladies waiting together for the train.We joined them.Apparently,the ladies compartment of the train stops right ahead of that spot. Gotchha!! We asked our fellow passenger to let us know when the station arrives and we indulged ourselves in another round of selfies.My favorite time pass for those 40  minutes was to try pronouncing the station names. Nungambakkam – Kodambakkam – Mambalam. Nice mouth exercise. Tirusulam was the 11th station.

Step 3.Get out of the station and walk for 5 mins.And yeah,we reached Chennai International Airport.All I needed was a cup of tea.Since it would be difficult to handle a-tea-deprived me,Reenu directed me to a nearby stall.Airport stall charge us Rs.40 for the tea.After the check-in procedure,we finally entered the flight.

(Whhhhooosssshhhh whhhhoooossshhhh phewww phewwwwwwwwww!!!)

The flight attendant on duty was cute.But since neither of us like cute guys,we were already bored and started going through the magazines.I was little bit scared to look out of the window as all I could see was blue water.(Inner me(Im):if plane crashes,they won’t even find my remains..aaahhh).I started chatting with the girl next to me.She was a marathi girl,studying in Chennai and going to her home as her family is settled in Andaman.(Im: who settles in Andaman?)

The sky down(oh ya! down!) was very clear.No trace of rains or lightning or turbulence.After two hours,we saw it(Apne kursiyon ki peti baandhe rakkhe!!)

The magnificent view of Andaman and Nicobar islands.

To be continued…


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